In our spring 2018 issue, Edible Cleveland published a series of portraits of women in farming inspired by classical portraits. The project is the vision of photographer Shane Wynn:
In June of 2017, while I was on a job documenting the women of Spice Acres, I was struck by their vintage-styled sundresses coupled with sturdy leather boots and aprons. The rainy evening ambiance at the farm created a nostalgic backdrop, and the combination elicited flashbacks to scenes in classical paintings, places I have only visited in my mind but have left lasting impressions. The first painting I was reminded of is Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. I’ve always loved the mystery of the scene in this painting and the title of the work. I like the simple presentation of a woman in her element, not smiling or necessarily engaging, but celebrated in her role. The following series of portraits paired with the paintings that inspired them is a celebration of the role of women in farming.
Edible Cleveland asked each of the women to elaborate on how their portrait captures who they are, as well as their reflections on the power of women whose work is tied to the land in some way. The following is a discussion with Hannah Lane Dietrich of Solis Agro Flower Farm, whose image was inspired by The Shepherdess by Johann Baptist Hofner (1866).
What was your experience like growing up, being surrounded by a flower farm?
Over the years, the farm has taken on many different forms and functions in my life. In my younger years, ages 5 to 10, the farm was a place to be a kid. Our time there was all about exploration, engagement with the natural world, and exhaustion. We would play at the farm in the rain and snow and sunshine, enamored with each season, making mud baths in the rich black soil and forts in the forest. We emotionally and physically embraced the farm. Just 5 miles from our house in town, it felt like a different world out there.
Around my teenage years, the farm became a place of productivity. We started a vegetable CSA, ramped up the scale of our crops and signed ourselves up for lots of hard work. During these years, the farm was not only my sole source of summer income, but also a place that I felt a sense of responsibility for. We depended on the farm, and it in turn flourished only under our care and attention. The farm taught us lessons about hard work, about commitment and dedicating time and effort to projects that won’t yield benefits for months or even years.
In my early 20s, the farm became an inspiration for wellness, community engagement, and healthful living. I think the driving force for the inspiration was the fact that we were working so damn hard to produce this amazing, organic, fresh produce, and I wanted people to appreciate it! Nothing will make you value a plate of green beans like the backbreaking work of handpicking them for hours on a 95° day. The same goes for fresh flowers, for organic honey, or really anything if you stop and think about how much effort it takes to make that entity available to you.
In the past two years, the farm has transformed once more into Solis Agro Flower Farm LLC. A provider of specialty cut, locally grown fresh flowers, Solis Agro Flower Farm thrives in the rich black muck soil that has nourished our harvests for so many years. Other entities currently housed on the farm are Solis Sweet, a producer of raw wildflower honey, and Solis Silver, a breeder of Silver Fox Rabbits.
The bunny in the photo is named Gummy Bunny because the bottoms of her feet look like gummy candies. Gummy is a Silver Fox Rabbit, a heritage breed of rabbits that was developed in the 1920s in North Canton. Today Silver Fox Rabbits are considered a threatened breed, as not many farmers are continuing to raise them. Gummy was the first Silver Fox Rabbit we bought from a local breeder, and following her purchase we have begun to develop our own pedigree. We hope that by raising Silver Fox Rabbits we can do our part to preserve a historically significant species from Ohio, and contribute to sustainable, local food production. Gummy is now a mama to many of our baby rabbits and will stay a pet.
How do you think women in farming are perceived?
My experience is that when people think of female farmers they think of a grungy, dirty, weathered, and natural woman. This image is a stark contrast to the done-up housewife, the poised career woman, the soft, beautiful and nurturing mother. Now I’ll admit that some days I put on a pair of torn jeans, I run in to the grocery store in muddy boots, I pay for a cup of coffee with dirty nails. But the next day, I may go into my office wearing a pencil skirt and heels. On my lunch break I’ll buy tickets to see the ballet. That weekend I’ll get a manicure or a blowout or go to a barre class.
My point is that none of these things make me more or less a female farmer. Female farmers are as different and diverse as humans could possibly be. We bring our own identities and personalities and sometimes don’t fit into the molds that have been prepared. You can’t always identify us by our straw hat and overalls, although I will say from personal experience that these outfit elements are often practical and sometimes necessary.
I think that women bring many talents to the realms of farming, animal husbandry, and floriculture that help them flourish and succeed in these markets. Attributes like attention to detail, seasonal planning, fortifying interpersonal relationships, dedication, and perseverance are all qualities that I feel have been pinnacle to the success of female farmers in my life.
Farming in general has informed the way I perceive the world in innumerous ways. My biggest takeaway from farming is that it is not something to be done alone. Female, male, old, young, I think all farmers rely on one another to carry on this ever-growing and changing endeavor. It is a culture of some of the most hardworking, humble, and hilarious people I’ve met, who dedicate their lives to working with and for the earth. Anyone who has tried farming from the scale of a window box to commercial agriculture knows how frustrating it can be at times, but also how rewarding, promising, and astonishing.